Riverside as an official municipality won’t celebrate its 150th birthday for another few years, but the village is gearing up to mark the sesquicentennial, this year, of its “big bang” origin – Frederick Law Olmsted’s creation of the General Plan of Riverside in 1869.
While Olmsted’s grand vision, and that of the Riverside Improvement Company, which hired the famed landscape architect’s firm, wasn’t completely realized, the village today continues to reflect and embrace those founding principles.
The General Plan of Riverside is “important not only for Riverside, but for the rest of community planning and urban planning in America,” said Cathy Maloney, chairwoman of the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission and of the special Riverside 150 committee created to appropriately celebrate the plan’s creation.
Riverside kicked off the celebration on March 24 with a lecture by noted architect and planner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and continues throughout the month of April with a “How Old Is That Oak?” contest before kicking into high gear as summer approaches.
The tree in question is a bur oak located in Guthrie Park – it’s the one with a green bow tied around it. Village Forester Michael Collins had an expert from the Morton Arboretum draw a core sample from that tree and several other old specimens in Riverside to determine just how long they’ve been there.
“I’ve always wanted to know how old some of the oaks are on our landscape,” said Collins. “Are they pre-settlement?”
To submit your guess, you can visit online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/RiversideOakContest. The closest guess will net a $25 gift certificate. The contest closes April 30 and the winner will be announced at the Riverside Public Library on May 2 at a special lecture “Secrets from Very Old Trees” by Dr. M. Ross Alexander of Midwest Dendro and Dr. Christine Rollinson of the Morton Arboretum.
The Riverside 150 committee includes members from a various local organizations to bring special one-off events to residents as well as putting a sesquicentennial spin on annual events such as Riverside Arts Weekend and the Fourth of July parade.
A few will stand out as signature events.
During a 24-hour period on May 10-11, Riverside will undergo a “BioBlitz” to create a census of the village’s flora and fauna with the help of scientists from University of Chicago, the Field Museum and the Morton Arboretum.
Those experts will help guide volunteers to create a register of plants, birds and mammals in Riverside “to create a baseline of the critters and plants in our area,” said Maloney. “We can refer to it in the future to see how we’re doing, biodiversity-wise, in the future.”
The BioBlitz is being funded by using part of a $10,000 grant from ComEd and Open Lands awarded to the village of Riverside last year to boost the village’s efforts at making it a destination for wildlife and those who enjoy it.
Another one-of-a-kind event will be a Vintage Baseball Game, which the Riverside Department of Parks and Recreation has slated for July 21 at Big Ball Park.
“We know that the Riverside baseball field – Big Ball Park – was part of the original plan,” Maloney said. “In the late 1800s, they played baseball there.”
The “vintage” game in July will pit the Chicago Salmon against the Deep River Grinders of Indiana, who will don their throwback uniforms and play according to the games rules from around 1860, just a decade before Riverside was born.
The Frederick Law Olmsted Society, meanwhile, is planning a day-long sesquicentennial celebration on Sept. 28 when it hosts both a special housewalk and its annual HopStop craft beer festival.
The Olmsted Society halted its bi-annual housewalk several years ago, but they decided to revive it at least in 2019 for the Riverside plan’s 150th anniversary. Dubbed “Masterworks I,” the housewalk concentrates its focus on the First Division and will feature six homes, including four related to the Avery Coonley Estate.
The tour will feature the bedroom wing of the Coonley House as well as the Gardener’s Cottage, both designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In addition, people can tour Thorncroft, a home on the Coonley Estate designed by William Drummond, along with Drummond’s Caretaker’s Cottage also on what was part of the original estate.
Non-Coonley homes on the housewalk will include the William LeBaron Jenney-designed Schermerhorn House, one of the first homes built in Riverside, and the sleek modernist Freeark House, designed by Lawrence Kenney and John Vinci about 100 years later, in the 1970s.
Later in the fall, the Riverside Dancing Club will host a sesquicentennial event that will be open to the public. Details are still pending.